Back in the 1980s, before there was YouTube or the Internet or electricity, a major way for young people to amuse themselves was to watch “music videos” on a basic-cable channel called “Music Television.” It was just like listening to the radio, except you had something to look at. Somehow this phenomenon led to a movie called “Spellcaster,” starring a VJ, a girl who had been in a famous ’80s video, and Adam Ant. The fact that “Spellcaster” didn’t come out until 1992, way after its freshness date, makes the film’s poor quality all the more poignant. Imagine making a terrible movie, then compounding your failure by releasing it five years too late!
The VJ who stars in the film is Richard Blade, a thin, pasty Englishman (but I repeat myself) who was a popular radio DJ in Los Angeles before becoming the host of several music-video programs in the ’80s. (Yes, the biggest star of “Spellcaster” is a VJ who wasn’t even on MTV, which is sort of like being a blogger who’s not even on the Internet.) Blade plays Rex, a VJ for the fictional RockTV who oversees a contest in which seven lucky viewers get to spend a weekend in an Italian castle and search for a check worth $1 million. This is a publicity stunt connected to a rocker who calls herself Cassandra Castle, who is played by a person called Bunty Bailey, who is best known (?) as the hot chick in A-ha’s famous “Take on Me” video. So this is definitely a movie that has “MTV generation cult favorite” written all over it, next to “clearance sale” and “$1.99.”
Adam Ant is also in this movie. He gets top billing in the credits, and his name is all over the advertising. He does not appear until the last 10 minutes. I kept thinking, “I wish Adam Ant would get here!,” which is not something anyone had ever thought before.
But enough about the big-time celebrities in the film. The actual main characters are Tom (Harold Pruett) and Jackie (Gail O’Grady), a wholesome brother and sister in their early 20s who miraculously won two of the seven spots in this worldwide contest entered by millions of people. (THIS IS SHADY.) Jackie and Tom are both devoid of personality — if they were a flavor of ice cream they would be water — except that Tom has the distinction of being kind of dumb. He brings his skateboard with him on the trip, because for sure there will be many opportunities for skateboarding in a medieval Italian castle.
The other five contestants are as follows: a fat dude named Harlan who is always eating, on account of his fatness; a snobby French girl named Yvette who thinks everything that is French is better than everything that isn’t French; an Italian phony named Tony who pretends to be suave and rich; an English woman named Myrna who dresses like she’s going on a fox hunt and claims to be an expert hunter; and Teri, a blond American skank.
These seven join skinny wrinkle farm Rex, drunk and petulant Cassandra, and a small TV crew at a beautiful old castle in Italy owned by one Signor Diablo, who has graciously lent out the use of his home for this special occasion. Signor Diablo’s last name is pronounced “Diab-o-lo” by his butler and “Diab-o-li” by Rex, which might be why no one notices it’s actually “Diablo” and that he’s the devil. Anyway, he doesn’t show his face until the end of the movie, when he’s Adam (spoiler) Ant.
In the meantime, the seven idiots get to chill in the castle while looking for a check that’s been hidden somewhere on the premises. Whoever finds it first gets to keep it. Rex tells everyone they’re not allowed to damage Signor Diaboloni’s property, and that they can’t start their search until tomorrow morning. Later that night, Tom says to his sister Jackie, “We can start searching now!” When she says, “That’s against the rules,” Tom replies, “The only rule is to win!” Which is demonstrably untrue. Rex just got done telling you the rules, Tom, and there were several of them. “To win” wasn’t even one of them, let alone the ONLY one. See what I mean about Tom being thick?
Meanwhile, Yvette the French girl tries to use sex to get Rex to give her hints about where the check is hidden. Since Rex is a desperate and sad semi-celebrity on basic cable, he obliges and gives Yvette a hint. Unfortunately, she very soon thereafter is poking around in the castle basement when an ornate antique chair comes to life and bites her on the neck, vampire-style, because why not? Evidently this is the kind of movie where furniture becomes sentient and attacks people who deserve karmic punishment. We soon learn that it’s also the kind of movie where Cassandra the drunk rock star wanders into a room and is harassed by zombies, barely escapes, and can’t get anyone to believe her that there are zombies in the room. In fact, she can’t even get anyone to open the door and see for themselves whether there are zombies. That’s how sick everyone is of Cassandra’s drunken B.S. “You think zombies tried to get you? Right behind this door? WELL, I’M NOT EVEN GOING TO OPEN IT, YOU CRAZY LUSH!”
Also meanwhile, Teri the American skank pulls the ol’ “my shower isn’t working, could you help me fix it?” routine with dumb Tom, flirts with him, disrobes in front of him, makes him think they’re going to make sexxytimes, then abruptly kicks him out of her room. She later does the same thing to someone else. Her motivation for being a cruel tease is not explained or discussed, but between these scenes and the one with Yvette and Rex, you definitely get the impression someone at “Spellcaster” headquarters wanted the film to resemble something you would see on Showtime in the middle of the night, i.e., vaguely erotic but mostly disappointing and featuring actresses whose breasts you recognize.
And where is the check that everyone’s looking for? Cassandra has it. Rex gave it to her, and she tucked it into her bosom. Now, I don’t know if the contestants are expected to search Cassandra’s bosom, though I do know that “Searching Cassandra’s Bosom” is the title of a movie you would find on Showtime in the middle of the night. I also don’t know why Rex would trust Cassandra with the check in the first place, considering he doesn’t even trust her to accurately report whether there are zombies in the castle. What I do know is that the check falls out of her bosom (flees for its life, probably) and starts floating around on the breeze, because I guess this castle is very drafty. Occasionally we cut to a shot of an unseen person’s hand waving over a crystal ball, presumably “casting” the “spells” that cause these various dumb things to happen.
A lot of miscellany occurs at this point. Characters interact in unimportant ways and do things that don’t matter. It’s like the movie didn’t feel like preparing a lesson and assigned us a bunch of busy work. Tony the Italian tries to molest Jackie, then falls off the roof of the castle and dies; Rex pours Cassandra’s vodka on the floor, and she kneels down and laps it up, then cries about how pathetic she is; Harlan the fat guy eats a roast pig and then turns into an actual pig; the TV show cameraperson chokes to death when an electrical cord comes to life like a fluorescent green snake and strangles her.
It turns out Signor Diablo is a Willy Wonka type who invites TV contestants to his castle in order to use his black magic to punish them for their vices, though his definition of “vices” is loose enough to include every person in the world. He explains this to Jackie, who has used her powers of blandness to become the movie’s main character when nobody was looking. He also reveals that Cassandra sold her soul to him, which is why she’s involved in all this nonsense, whereupon Cassandra fires a gun at the crystal ball, which somehow destroys Signor Diablo and releases all of his victims from their limbo state, because ha ha, none of them died after all, they were just in limbo in Signor Diablo’s cellar. The film’s mythology is hard to follow, but I believe the gist of it is that Satan’s powers are contained within an easily shattered crystal ball, that people who die go to Satan’s basement, and that the bland shall inherit the earth. Oh, and the only rule is to win.